Led by Sea Shepherd Italia, Operation Siracusa aims to defend the fragile ecosystem of the Plemmirio Marine Reserve, off the eastern coast of Siracusa in Sicily, against illegal fishing.
The Reserve is a haven for marine life, including large pelagic fish such as tuna, greater amberjacks and sharks, as well as transient marine mammals, including sperm whales. Species that are most directly impacted by poaching in the region are the sea urchin and the dusky grouper, the latter being listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Operation Siracusa continues to achieve incredible successes in working with local authorities to prevent poaching in the region. Below is the June update, provided by our on the ground volunteers.
14th June: Two divers stopped while illegally fishing in the “C-Zone”
During night patrols and surveillance operations, Sea Shepherd volunteers spot two divers using aqualungs, carrying out illegal fishing activities within the “C-Zone” of the Plemmirio Marine Reserve.
A third person was acting as a lookout, informing his fellow poachers who were in the water of movements outside the area by means of light signals.
Sea Shepherd volunteers alert the Guardia di Finanza (Financial Police) who are quick to respond.
The Guardia di Finanza monitored the illegal activity, however the divers manage to avoid being taken into custody by re-emerging and fleeing through the yard of a private property that borders on the waterfront.
15th June: Two poachers detained after being caught by Sea Shepherd while setting a longline in the “A-Zone”
Two poachers, on board a medium-sized vessel, are observed setting a longline in the “A-Zone” region of the Plemmirio Marine Reserve. The “A-Zone” is afforded the maximum level of protection under the law.
Sea Shepherd volunteers immediately relay information about the illegal activity to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard intervenes promptly and the poachers are taken into custody.
17th June: Fishing nets recovered in the “B-Zone”. Prohibited boat traffic stopped in the “A-Zone”.
Sea Shepherd volunteers on daytime patrols uncover multiple abandoned fishing nets in the area between Punta Tavola and Punta del Gigante, in the “B-Zone.” The gear is recovered by the volunteers and taken to a secure location.
Abandoned containers, probably used by poachers as signaling buoys for the illegal nets, are also picked-up along the coast.
Sea Shepherd volunteers then observe a high level of boat traffic in the maximum protection area (the “A-Zone”) of the Plemmirio, off the lighthouse of Capo Murro di Porco. Navigation in this area is strictly prohibited.
Sea Shepherd alerts the Polizia Ambientale (the Environmental Police), who intervene immediately, requesting the assistance of the Polizia di Mare (Sea Police) to force the boats to leave the maximum protection zone.
After the daytime patrols are over, Sea Shepherd volunteers are invited by the Polizia Ambientale to meet a small group of students from the United States, who are studying marine biology at Arcadia University, Siracusa.
The volunteers update the visiting students about the Sea Shepherd’s worldwide operations, focusing on Sicily and on Operation Siracusa.
19th June: Two longlines seized in the “A-Zone”
In addition to land patrols, Sea Shepherd volunteers are now involved in land and sea video-surveillance operations, undertaken from the operative room of the Plemmirio Marine Reserve. The additional surveillance highlights the synergy between the Ente Plemmirio (the official body responsible for the administration and management of the Reserve) and Sea Shepherd.
During night patrols, Sea Shepherd volunteers intercept two boats in two different zones. Both vessels are fishing illegally. Specifically, the poachers are setting longlines in the water within the “A-Zone.”
The volunteers alert the Coast Guard immediately. The Coast Guard intervenes promptly and, while maintaining constant radio contact with the volunteers, recovers the longlines that the poachers have abandoned.
Unfortunately, the poachers flee under the cover of darkness.
The Plemmirio is classified as an Area Specialmente Protetta di Interesse Mediterraneo (ASPIM), a name given to places that are important for the conservation of biodiversity in the Mediterranean, and also as an Area Marina di Reperimento, meaning an area the conservation of which is deemed to be a priority.
The Plemmirio Marine Reserve is divided into three zones, which enjoy different levels of protection: the A-Zone, the area in which the most rigid restrictions are in place, the B-Zone which has the second highest level of restrictions, and the C-Zone, where the rules are most lenient.
The A-Zone enjoys total protection. No vessels may enter it or be anchored there. No fishing, gathering of marine species, or diving is allowed. Spearfishing, both with aqualungs and by free divers, is forbidden in all three zones.
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